I’ve always been one of those gals who likes instructions. I figure most women do, and that’s why we’re a good partner for men. We have no problem following direction, which can be an asset to their ummm, lack of such. I joke, but seriously, relationships are a lot about teamwork. So, as a woman who loves a step-by-step guide, who’s married to a man who figures it out as he goes, we manage to meet in the middle of most things, creating a great balance for this complex thing called life. And since I’m the instruction manual kinda lady, I thought what better way to share some of the relationship knowledge I’ve gained through trial and error, than by giving you all an excellent first step. After all, it’s hard to make it to point C when you’ve neglected A, or even B.
I got the idea for this post this morning when I was reading the Bible. I came across a part when the Old Testament prophet Elijah said to the people, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”
I’m not trying to make being in a relationship akin to serving God (although, lessons are there), and I’m definitely not going to try and over-spiritualize the topic. But many times when I read the Bible it reminds me how it can impact each area of your life. This morning’s readings happened to remind me of a time that changed not only the course of my relationship with my now-husband, but also changed the course of my life. How could I not share that with you all?! It was my very own moment of discovering that if I believed in something, I needed to commit to it already.
It was the day before Valentine’s, approximately 12 years ago. First off, yes, I had waited until the last minute to buy my boyfriend a card. You see, things weren’t the greatest between us. I could blame it on so many things. I mean, I was freshly out of a marriage gone bad, with a husband who had left me. Rejection will make any girl feel afraid to open her heart to another man. I could blame it on my grief. My heart was still numb from the recent loss of my mother. I was living life in a fog, and I honestly don’t remember most days back in that timeframe. I probably drank too much, trying to numb my pain even further, and my fella certainly was no choir boy either. We both succumbed to our individual vices, two broken souls clinging to one another loosely, trying to figure out if we wanted the other person to help save us or not.
Point is, I could go on and on with all the many reasons why we weren’t in a fabulous place in our relationship, but for the purposes of this post, I’m just going to discuss the pivotal decision that started to change things for the better.
So, back to the Hallmark aisle. I love cards. Always have. It must be my love language or something. I’m a writer, after all. I love words. I love how you can take feelings and put them into words, and then gift those words. A card is an amazing way to say, “this! This is a piece of what I feel, and what you mean to me.”
So, there I was in my favorite place, and I had found the perfect Valentine’s Day card, despite waiting until the last minute to buy it. I read the words, knowing they were a perfect declaration of love, but it was some unwritten words that really shook me.
I can’t say I’ve ever heard the audible voice of God, and at the time I hardly heard the whisper of the Holy Spirit to my heart, but when it happened in the card aisle that day I had no doubt it was the voice of God speaking in my head.
“You need to mean it.”
Five words, out of the blue, that caused me to pause before placing the card in my basket, and that began a conviction in my heart. God knew I wasn’t 100 percent in this relationship. I was holding back, guarding my heart, and distrustful of moving forward. The act of purchasing the card for him was just lip service. I was saying “I love you,” but my actions were lacking. The card spun a lovely lyric of commitment, but my heart wasn’t in it. Not really.
Looking back, I wonder if my face in the card aisle reflected the shaking I was under at that moment. It was like I stood at a crossroads. I could keep giving a mediocre effort, kinda gliding through the relationship, indifferent to the eventual outcome, or I could go all in. Yeah, it was a gamble to give away my heart, but I knew I’d never achieve real happiness in a relationship without betting on us. I had all the right words to describe love. Now I just needed to want it and believe it.
The thing is, this world is full of broken, hurting people. When we started our relationship, we were certainly both those things. We had more baggage than a bellhop, but the only way to start unloading it all is to admit it’s there, and then make the decision to do something about it.
A relationship requires give and take. It takes teamwork. It takes both parties willing to work. And the first step to happiness in a relationship is deciding to put in the work. Not halfway, but 100 percent.
Heck, I’ve known people who get married with it on the edge of their thoughts, “this probably isn’t gonna work. Just like all my other relationships didn’t work.”
Well, of course it’s not going to work. Why is the percentage of marriages lower today than thirty years ago? People don’t want to make that commitment. They want a test drive. Let’s just live together and see what happens. There’s no money back guarantee with relationships, and we can’t treat them like there is.
The first step to creating a happy relationship is deciding you can be happy. It’s understanding you deserve happiness. It’s making the commitment to believe in yourself, and to believe in the other person. It’s the decision to actually try and be a better partner. It’s the choice we all make to lay down pride and selflessly serve the person we’re saying we love. Also known as, not just saying the words, but showing them with everything we have.
If you find yourself currently gliding through a tumultuous dating game, ask yourself those words. “Do you mean it?” Are you willing to put in the work? Stand at the crossroads and decide to either go all in or stop pretending just because you kinda crave companionship. Any relationship takes all that both people have to offer. If you’re not ready to give all you got, it may be time to take a step back and see why that is. It’s not fair to the other person if you’re not willing to mean the words inside the card that you’re buying.